Combating Boredom

Do you feel like you are spending too much to feed your hens? You probably are.


Your hens are bored. To combat their boredom they play in their feed, scatter it around their yard, and only eat the most desirable bits.

Why are they bored?

Chickens are foragers. They are meant to spend most of their day looking for their food and only finding it in small quantities. When we take that away by confining them in a smallish space with limited resources and a feeder full of all their daily needs they no longer have a job to do. Their brains cannot process this and they have nothing to do for the better part of their day. So if their space is small enough they spend time picking on each other and  at their feeder, if the space is large enough they won’t pick on each other, but they will play with the feeder in their continual search for more and better food. Chickens just don’t process that they have everything they need in their small coop/run, they must continue to search for food.

What can you do about it?

Create obstacles to their food sources:

Hang hooks from the roof of the run (I used rubber bungee cords). Then attach food to those hooks. Apples, corn on the cob, lettuce, half or whole cabbages, anything that they will eat that can be  impaled by a hook. When they peck at the food it swings away from them, creating a moving target that is harder to gobble up in a few minutes.

Create wire sided baskets. I folded some chicken wire up and attached it to the side of the run. I mostly place loose leaf greens in it. Sometimes fruit or vegetables that are softer sided that don’t hang on hooks well. The hens have to reach through the chicken wire to get at the food. It’s also a good way to give your hens opposable thumbs. the wire holds the food while the hens peck at it and tear the greens apart with their beaks. Also toss part of their daily ration on the floor of the run along with any food scraps you have. Whole grains never go to waste, when they get wet they just sprout and become more desirable to the hens.

Create sprouting baskets. Make a wooden frame to hold whatever sized sprouting tray you use. The frame needs to hold the tray in place even when the hens are pecking at it. I prefer that the tray hold the sprouts perpendicular to the ground, so that the hens can’t walk/poop on the tray.

Create a raised vegetable garden inside the run. Or better yet, create two or three for rotational planting/grazing. The important part about this is keeping the hens from digging up or completely consuming the young plants. You want them to be able to eat the food, but not be able to reach the base of the plants. This is where a wire fence comes in. Either completely covering the raised bed about 4-6 inches above the level of the soil, or if you have multiple beds completely surrounding the beds that are in their growing phase.

Plant a chicken garden along the outside of the run. This is similar to a raised bed, but only works if you either never let your hens out of the run to forage in your yard or you place a second fence around the run on the outside of the chicken garden.

Make suet or a flock block for them. I don’t recommend buying a Flock Block from Purina as the main ingredient is corn. Putting together a block of whole grains held together with molasses or rendered animal fat is messy, but not that hard. This is more of a winter time activity than a heat of the summer one.

Other factors that reduce feed cost:

  • greater time free ranging across living plants (forest/grass/planted fields)
  • more fruits/vegetables in the run
  • more access to bugs/worms
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Ginny’s Coop

On a sleepy street in central Columbia stands the second of two coops designed by Ginny M. and built by her partner Scout with the helping hands of many of their community. The first coop was almost identical to this one, but it stayed with the house they sold.

This coop had to go up fast during their time of transitioning between houses. New lumber was purchased and Scout framed the walls out at the old house. After transporting the framed in walls to the current house, the foundation blocks were placed and leveled, the OSB nailed down, and the walls put up in only a few hours.

The Overshiner’s donated some time putting in the tresses as a house warming present, the roof went on, and the run was fenced in.

South side

The glass door lets in lots of late fall, winter and spring light. The west side has plenty of room to store tools and feed. The west wall is solid and acts as a windbreak in the winter months, both for the coop and the run. The long roof extending over the run allows the hens to have a snow free area in winter as well as a dry area during the rains.

Hooks up on the wall for yard tools, a bench for feed canisters, and still enough room for the wheel barrow!

I love this idea of the extended western roof creating an open shed area!

Inside looking north

The north windows have fencing covering them all year, but there is an option to install windows for the windiest weeks of winter. The windows facing east into the run are not covered by anything. Lots of good ventilation here!  Again, the west wall protects the hens from the worst of Missouri’s east blowing winds. The roosting bar is wide side up so that the girls can completely cover their feet with their feathers in winter.

Inside floor

Ginny’s hens didn’t use the nest boxes in the last coop, so she didn’t install any in this coop. Instead the hens lay their eggs in the straw under the bench that hold their feed and water. dropping boards under the roosts allow for easy management of manure. In this case it gets moved into the compost fairly regularly.

Run and the east side of the coop

You can see through the window openings into the coop. Metal roofing may not be cheaper dollar wise, but it never has to be replaced, never leaks, weighs less than shingles, and is reusable. This particular metal roofing wasn’t much more costly than shingles, maybe about 120-130%.

Happy chickens!

Posted in chickens, housing

Fall 2012 Classes

In partnership with the Columbia Career Center I’ll be teaching three classes this fall. This is a great opportunity for you to ask all those pesky questions you haven’t been able to find answers to. I really love teaching these classes! So many good questions from people eager to learn, who are as interested as I am in having happy, healthy hens!

Class size is small so sign up as soon as you can.

Urban Hens 101

October 18, 2012 from 6 to 8:30 pm

If you’re new to chickens, then this is the class for you! We’ll discuss everything from day old chick care, raising hens in the city, breed selection, coop and brooder ideas, to feed requirements and egg laying expectations.

Chicken Health and Preventative Care

October 29th, 2012 from 6-9 pm

Chickens make wonderful pets for the backyard gardener, but they have unique needs. This class will teach you how to raise healthy chickens in a backyard environment, discuss the factors to look for when acquiring birds, how to treat many of the common ailments you’ll encounter, and offer ideas for preventative care.

I’ve heard quite a number of stories about sick hens in Columbia this summer, if you want to know how to take care of your flock this is the class for you!

Chicken Coop Construction

November 6, 2012 from 6-9 pm

In this 3 hours workshop you will learn the essential components of building a well functioning chicken coop, common physical characteristics, and the requirement for a safe coop. I’ll also share information on where and what kinds of free materials you’ll be able to find around Columbia.  You will finish the class by viewing pictures of local coops and (if we have time) sketching out some design ideas for your own back yard. We won’t actually be constructing a coop, just discussing and viewing ideas.

I’ve heard quite a number of stories about sick hens in Columbia this summer, if you want to know how to take care of your flock this is the class for you!

I’m really excited about this!

Posted in chicks, Health, housing, preventative care, Workshops | Tagged , ,

The new hen house at Terra Nova Community; a guest post

By Claire Garden

I wanted a hen house large enough to walk into because as I get older, I find it more difficult to lean into my coops that sit on posts two feet off the ground.  So I planned and built a hen house with 6′ x 6′ footprint, 6′ high on the lower east end and just high enough on the higher west end to accommodate a used full size door that I got from friends who were remodeling their house.  Instead of a foundation, I used concrete stepping stones. The roof is 6′ x 8′ to give it an overhang on the west side.

Claire by the north gate

For a large window on the east side, I used a panel from a discarded storm door with glass at the top and screen at the bottom.

The east window closed

I had a second glass panel from another discarded storm door that I mounted on hinges to be a rain shelter when opened and that could be closed over the screen if the temps get too cold.

Close up of the east window open

I had another smaller piece of glass that I used for a fixed window on the south side, just for added light.  Also on the south side is the pop hole for hen entry, with a closable door.
I wanted to be able to gather eggs without going inside, so I built a wide nest box protruding on the north side with a hinged cover.  It will provide two large nest areas accessible to the hens inside.

Nest box accessible from the outside for egg gathering

I wanted to provide the hens with a shaded area, so added a porch roof to the south side over the pop hole.  I may put their feed in the porch area, but plan to put their water pan inside the house on a raised platform just inside the human door for easy filling.  I’m hoping it will freeze less often inside, especially since I insulated the wall right behind it with a scrap piece of thick rigid foam.  Of course, I covered the studs with boards so the insulation is not available to hens to peck at.

South porch under construction

looking into the south porch

I built a 1″ chicken wire mesh fence on the east and south sides of the house, with the north and west sides outside the fenced area.  As all our predators can fly or climb, I always put a wire roof over the pens.  I built 2×4 gates just east of the house and just south of the house.  I put more than one kind of lock on gates and doors so that smart coons can’t figure out how to get them open.

west gate locks

double lock north gate

I don’t know if the photo makes it clear that a favorite way to lock our pens is to have a  2×2 board swinging on one screw with a hole drilled through it and through the post and a big nail or bolt pushed in that can be pulled out by hand, no tools.  So far, no coon has figured it out, so the second lock, a hook, may be superfluous.

double lock, coop

Most of my materials were repurposed, though I did buy 18  new 2x4s to add to the repurposed studs I had.  The wonderful people at Columbia’s roofing company out on Paris Rd. gave me a free bundle of shingles, which were just enough, since I still had part of the free bundle they gave me for my last coop.

West doors to coop and run (smaller one on right)

I think I may not have enough ventilation, though leaving the large window open even in winter (except for the coldest nights) may be adequate.  If necessary, I could cut a narrow high “window” and cover it with hardware cloth.  Speaking of hardware cloth, I bought a new piece of it 3′ x 5′ and cut it into three 1′ x 5′ pieces.  I bent up 4″ of one side with a hammer and 2×4 piece and fastened the 4″ side to the sill with chicken wire staples on the north and west sides. Then I laid posts on the 8″ part that extended on the ground.  This is to keep rodents from burrowing into the area under the floor boards.

hardware cloth edging

You can’t see the staples hammered through the hardware cloth into the sill and maybe can’t see the bend in the cloth with 4″ on the sill and 8″ on the ground with an old clothesline post on the west side and an old pipe on the north side.
Wow Claire, what a great coop! Thanks for writing about it and letting me share it on my blog! I love the way you’ve reused so many parts into such a great looking structure.
Posted in housing

Where to Get Chicks in 2012

Don’t forget I’m teaching an Urban Hen class March 22 at 6:30pm in room 175 at the Career Center. Sign up here.

Our only local feed store is now taking special orders for chicks, call 573-474-4113!

Bourn Feed is located just east of Patricia’s Food on the access road.  Alternatively you can take 70 and get off at the Lake of the Woods exit and then head west on the access road.  Bourn orders from Cackle Hatchery, so anything you see on Cackle’s website you can order through Bourn.  This benefits you because the minumum for shipping in the spring is 25 chicks (min 5 per breed) and you won’t have to pay large S&H costs.  By ordering through Bourn you can get as few as 1 or as many as 6 different breeds and as little as a single chick!

The list of breeds that Bourn has scheduled to arrive:

(P) is for pullet or all female chicks

(S) is for straight run or both male and female chicks (this is a lottery)

March 20th

  • Aracauna* (P)
  • Buff Orpington (P)
  • Black Australorp (P)
  • Cherry Egger (P)
  • Rhode Island Red (P)
  • Brown Leghorn (P)
  • Barred Rock (P)

March 27th

  • Black Sex Link (P)
  • Production Red (P)
  • Red Sex Link (P)
  • Barred Rock (P)
  • Light Brahma* (P)
  • Black Jersey Giant *(P)
  • Birchin Cochin Bantams *(S)
  • White Crested Black Polish *(S)

April 5th

  • Buff Orpington (P)
  • Golden Laced Wyandotte* (P)
  • Silver Laced Wyandotte* (P)
  • Cuckoo Marans* (P)
  • Speckled Sussex* (S)
  • Turkin Assortment *(S)

April 10th

  • Polish Crested* Assortment *(S)
  • Austra White (P)
  • Aracauna* (P)
  • Splash Rose Bantams *(S)
  • Black Tailed White Japanese Bantams *(S)
  • Mille Fluer D’Uccle Bantams *(S)

April 17th: Ducklings:

  • Rouen
  • Khaki Campbell
  • Ancona
  • Pekin
  • Blue Sweedish
  • Black Swedish
  • Indian Runner
Apr 24th
  • Red Shouldered Yokohamas *(S)
  • Silver Duckwing Phoenix *(S)
  • Buttercup *(S)
  • German Spitzhauben *(S)
  • Polish Assortment *(S)

May 8th: Turkeys:

  • White
  • Bourbon Red
  • Blue Slate
  • Black Spanish
  • Royal Palm
  • Bronze

May 17th

  • Buff Orpington (P)
  • Barred Rock (P)
  • Brown Leghorn (P)
  • Aracauna *(P)

May 30th (Guineas!)

  • Pearl
  • White
  • Lavender
  • Royal purple

Remember this is only a list of what they will have (they are not able to reserve them, its a first come fist serve basis for this list).  If you want something else, please feel free to call (573) 474-4113 and put in an order for one of their arrival dates.

Prices per chick at Bourn are:

(P) are $2.75

(S) are $2.00

*(P) are $2.89

*(S) are $2.50

Meyer Hatchery in Ohio still has a minimum order of 3 chicks! And Back to the Farm in Mexico, MO is open this season. They no longer have Barred Plymouth Rocks, but still have Partridge Plymouth Rock, Buff Orpington, New Hampshire Red and Delaware.

Why can chicks go 48 hours without eating? Because right before they hatch they absorb the last of their yolk sack into their abdomens. This allows them to remain safe under their mother while she waits for any late eggs to hatch.

Posted in chicks

Choosing Chicks

Picking a breed or breeds to include in your flock can be a difficult endeavor, depending on what your requirements are. Some people find it very easy. I do not. I envy those chickens raisers that can go to the feed store and pick up their chicks without agonizing over which breed(s) to add to their flocks.

This post should help you understand how to order chicks and the general characteristics of various breeds and categories of chickens. It is by no means all inclusive.

First off, chicken breeds are not like dog breeds, you can not tell them apart solely by color. Each breed tends to share its color varieties with many other breeds. Not all breeds have more than one color, but most of them do. Some even have a whole bunch! Many breeds have a popular color, which may be the only variation available in your area.

There are four general categories of chicken breeds. The first three are standard size (what you are used to seeing).

1. Egg layers

    • The breeds in this category are mainly hybrids (the hen and roo come from different breeds) that can be color sexed at hatch
    • Tend to have small bodies and little meat at the end of their production days
    • High feed to egg conversion ratio
    • Tend to be more flighty than dual purpose breeds
    • Excellent egg producers (300+ their first 12 month in production)

2. Meat birds

    • Grow faster than the other two types
    • High feed to meat conversion ratio
    • In general, not the prettiest birds
    • There are a limited number of these breeds with one dominating the market
    • The birds will reach a marketable weight between 4 and 20 weeks of age

3. Dual purpose birds

    • The majority of breeds fall into this category
    • Most heirloom and rare breeds will fall into this category.
    • These birds will be good egg layers (150-200 eggs per yr, occasionally up to 250), the males will have good meat production (but will take 6-12 months to reach a marketable weight) and the hens will have a decent amount of meat at the end of production

4. Bantams

    • Smaller versions of the standard size chickens
    • Low feed to egg conversion ratio
    • Excellent sitters and mothers
    • Generally more docile than their standard size counterparts

Egg layers

If all you are concerned with is egg production, then I recommend any of the sex-linked breeds. A roo of one breed is mated to a hen of another (generally a white with a red). They come in various colors of red and in black. There are no other colors of female chickens that are color sexed at hatch. You’ll see names such as Productions Red, Cherry Eggers, Red Sex Link, Black Sex Link, Cinnamon Queen and Golden Comet to describe the hybrid sex linked chickens. There are other breeds in this category but none so excellent an egg layer as the hybrids. Breeds that are considered very good layers are Leghorns, Orpingtons, Australorps, Rhode Island Reds, and NH Reds to name a few of the most common.

Meat birds

As far as I know, there are three meat bird sources. No pure breeds exist, that are excellent meat birds.

The Cornish Cross (a hybrid) dominates the market and you can find it at any hatchery and in every grocery store. It is the only meat bird for the commercial poultry industry. This bird consumes as much feed as you provide and grows at a very high rate of speed. They tend to be very lethargic birds that lose the feathers on their chest due to the amount of time they spend lying down and scooting around to feed instead of standing up. They grow FAST. You’ll have these birds to a marketable weight in 6 wks. They get hot very easily so don’t start them 6 weeks before your hottest weather hits. Better to start them during the hottest weather so that as they grow the weather is cooling off. (I had a run at these last year and did not enjoy it, but that doesn’t mean I won’t do it again. Its over with very fast!)

The Freedom Ranger line was produced as an alternative to the Cornish Cross by J & M Poultry in PA. Its now a separate hatchery, find it here. Their information states you can get 5-6 lbs of live weight in 9-11 weeks.  It is a meat bird for free ranging. Not much is known about the origins of these birds, they seem to be hybrids as there are multiple color variations in the flocks. (I might try these, but I’d rather get my hands on the next type)

S & G Poultry has three meat bird types, each with a different growth rate. “Fast, which is a five pound chicken in less than 50 days (7 wks) on a normal ration, medium, which is 70 to 100 days of age (10-14 wks), and slow, which is 100 to 120 days old (14-17 wks).” These flocks seem to be stable, but again nothing is really known about their origins. They may be working towards stabilizing the flocks into breeds that can be recognized in the future. (I’m very interested in trying these birds out)

Dual purpose birds

Most breeds fall into this category. Including the Delaware, Dominique, Jersey Giants, Dark Cornish, Turken (or Naked Neck),  the Plymouth Rocks, Easter Egger (hybrids with the colored egg gene of the Americauna), Buckeye, Barnevelder, Welsummer, Marans, and the popular Orpington. If you are looking for a good homesteading bird, look to this category.  Any one of these breeds will make a good urban hen. Though the Jersey Giants require special facilities due to their large size and adult weight.


Bantams are smaller versions of standard size chickens. They are not a breed unto themselves. There are a few true bantams that have no larger size equivalent. Bantams range in size from just under 2 pounds to about 5 pounds, while standards range from about 5 pounds up to about 8 pounds (except the Jersey Giants which can get up to about 13 pounds).

Bantams take up less space, eat less food, but also produce less eggs. If you get more than a few dozen eggs a season from a bantam consider yourself doing great. They tend to be much more docile and friendly than standard size chickens.

I find bantams to be useful on the urban homestead as broody mothers. They raise each successive generation of chicks for me. I always write a post about my newest broody so search the archives if you’d like to read about how it works. I’ve successfully gotten my broodies to accept day old chicks, three week old chicks, and to hatch fertile eggs. I admit its fun to raise chicks up on your own under a heat lamp where you can handle them at will, but its more fun and easier on you and the flock if your hens raise their own successors. Some people segregate their broodies and the chicks for a number of weeks. I do not. I will fence off the broody on hatch day, for about 40-48 hours. This gives the chicks some food that the older girls can’t get to, while they wait for mama to decide that all the eggs have hatched. About 48 hrs after the first chick hatched, mama will give up on the rest of the eggs. She will then get off the nest and take the chicks in search of food.  I also provide a fenced off part of the run for them to have their own feeder of non-medicated chick starter. The opening to this yard within a yard is too small for older members of the flock to get into.

If you are just starting or even if you are starting a new flock, I highly recommend that you include a bantam or three. Some bantams are mostly for show and are not good mothers, so make sure you know which is which. (Silkies and Cochins are great broodies, but Sebrights are not.) Your chicks will be smarter for it. Mamas can teach them much more, in a far shorter amount of time, than chicks can learn on their own or from their human care takers.


Chicks are ordered one of three ways. Pullets are all female (most hatcheries guarantee only 90% accuracy so you might get a roo). Cockerels are all males. And Straight Run (SR) is a grab bag which is roughly 50/50. The smaller your order of SR chicks is, the more likely you are to get a result that isn’t 50/50. All orders of hatching eggs are SR, there is no way to sex an egg accurately, though there are many ways people swear by to do it at home.

If you can only have female chickens in your flock and you don’t want to deal with any roos, its best to only get pullets. If you can only have female chickens are okay getting a lower number of hens than you hoped for, but you don’t mind a chicken dinner, try ordering SR. If you can find a breeder in your area, you might consider ordering from a local farm. You’ll find that birds from your area are more accustomed to your climate and food sources. Make sure you vet  any farm you consider buying from as not all chicken raisers have the same standards as you. For that matter, not all hatcheries are equal. I have doubts about the breeding stock for my hatchery, but am not able to get all of the breeds I want locally.

I know this doesn’t answer all your questions, but each flock and strain of chickens has different characteristics. Its hard to say with any accuracy what the personality of a breed is going to be like due the vastly different conditions in which each is raised. For example, I’ve never met a friendly red chicken, no matter the breed, so I won’t ever add one to my flock. However, I’ve heard from people all over the country that their particular flock of this or that red chicken is the sweetest they’ve ever met and they wouldn’t have a different breed for anything.

My last piece of advice today is that you choose your chicks wisely. The oldest birds will create a social structure and culture within the flock that will persist.  Each successive generation will learn from the previous ones. Be sure, take your time, and consider making concessions in order to create a flock culture you can be happy with for years and years to come.

Posted in chickens, chicks, eggs, Meat | Tagged , , ,

First Marans Eggs

Not as dark as I'd hoped for, but its nicely speckled!

What a nice gradation of browns I’ve got going from my flock.

The Marans are 24 weeks old. I’m looking forward to the next few weeks as they ramp up into full production mode!!

Eggs 2 and3 have arrived!

Either egg 3 is a double yolk or my Marans hen has moved from pullet sized eggs to adult at light speed!


Posted in eggs